Polls Show A Tight Race In Nevada
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President Obama has been campaigning in the interior West. That's a region that was once overwhelmingly Republican in presidential races. Many states still are safely Republican there. But some are competitive - fiercely so - including Colorado, where the president campaigns today. And also the state he visited yesterday - Nevada. Mitt Romney and the political action committees supporting him are spending a lot of money to win back Nevada. And NPR's Ted Robbins has the story from Las Vegas.
TED ROBBINS, BYLINE: On the same day President Obama came to Las Vegas, the Republican superPAC American Crossroads was spending more than a million dollars running this TV ad in Nevada.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV AD)
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: After gambling your money on his failed stimulus, President Obama says...
PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Don't blow a bunch of cash on Vegas.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: He doesn't get it. In Nevada, tourism means jobs.
ROBBINS: The president's quote comes from 2010, when he said, You don't blow a bunch of cash in Vegas when you're trying to save for college. You prioritize. He then went on to say it's time government does the same.
But political campaigns tend to be short on context. Gambling revenues are actually up in recent months and Vegas housing prices are finally starting to rise again. On the other hand, Nevada still has the nation's highest unemployment rate at 12 percent. Sandra Clarke believes things are getting better. She's a housekeeper at the Rio Hotel and Casino.
SANDRA CLARKE: I can tell that we are picking up, you know. Probably not as great as it was four years ago, but we are getting there.
ROBBINS: Clarke is a member of the Culinary Workers Union, which had a lot of folks among the 8,000 people at the president's rally Wednesday. Brandon Smith works in the buffet at the Fremont Hotel. He doesn't see an alternative in Republican candidate Mitt Romney.
BRANDON SMITH: He doesn't understand our issues. He's never been a worker like us. He doesn't know what it's like to clean a room. He doesn't know what it's like to stand on your feet for seven hours.
ROBBINS: Union leaders are convinced that a Republican win in November would mean disaster for them. It's no coincidence, they say, that big Republican donor Sheldon Adelson also owns the only major non-union resort on the Vegas strip.
Latinos are another crucial voting bloc in Nevada, and voters like Francisco Rufino say they've been turned off by Governor Romney's tough anti-immigration positions.
FRANCISCO RUFFINO: Romney is just - he just said a couple of things on TV and stuff like that that hurts us.
ROBBINS: But Latinos tend to vote in lesser numbers than whites. And whites, in Nevada's rural areas at least, are heavily Republican. That's made things close so far. But University of Nevada at Las Vegas political science professor David Damore says Nevadans don't seem to be blaming Mr. Obama for getting them into the economic mess. And he questions whether enough voters will respond to the Republican strategy to get out of it.
DAVID DAMORE: So that's one of the reasons why Romney's struggling here, whereas you look, you know, at the economic numbers, he should be up big. The other problem, of course, is you have a dysfunctional Republican party in Nevada, which doesn't owe him any favors at all.
ROBBINS: Ron Paul supporters control the Nevada Republican Party. Romney has had to set up his own organization. In the meantime, Damore says, Democrats are registering voters.
DAMORE: Every single month the Democrats are adding more people to the voting roles than Republicans are. They're actually getting eclipsed by non-partisans every month. So a group that no one's trying to register is registering at a greater, faster pace than are the actual Republicans.
ROBBINS: Nevada Democrats are actually on pace to reach the same 60,000 voter edge they had in 2008. In a fiery close to his Las Vegas rally, President Obama told supporters they have to get to the polls.
OBAMA: And if you're willing to work with me and fight for me and knock on some doors with me and make some phone calls with me, if you vote in November, we will win here in Clark County. We will win Nevada. We will win this election.
ROBBINS: Nevada begins early voting in little more than a month.
Ted Robbins, NPR News, Las Vegas.
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